The Fuse

This Week In AVs: UN Reaches Global AV Milestone; Amazon Acquires Zoox; And More

by Anna Polo | July 02, 2020

United Nations Reaches Global AV Milestone
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) announced its new regulation on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) for passenger cars which will allow for the safe initiation of autonomous vehicles in certain traffic environments. Adopted by the UNECE’S World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) sits on, this is the first international binding agreement on Level 3 vehicle automation. Being a part of the Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles, SAFE played a role in establishing the guidelines of the regulation, which is set to go into motion in January 2021.

This is the first international binding agreement on Level 3 vehicle automation.

Covering safety requirements for emergency maneuvers, transition demands, and minimum risk maneuvers, the regulation permits ALKS to be activated on roads where pedestrians and cyclists are forbidden, and which are designed to physically separate traffic moving in opposite directions. Additionally, it ensures ALKS systems do not exceed operational speeds of 60 km/h and also requires car manufactures to include Driver Availability Recognition Systems, which oversee the driver’s presence and the driver’s ability to retrieve control of the vehicle, as well as a “black box” or Data Storage System for Automated Driving (DSSAD) to document when ALKS is activated. These specific guidelines place safety as the top priority of the UN’s work in the future of autonomous transportation.

Amazon acquires AV startup Zoox
Last Friday, Amazon revealed its plans to acquire Zoox for $1.2 billion, making it Amazon’s biggest investment in autonomous vehicle technology. Amazon intends to work with Zoox to build self-driving taxis, but analysts also anticipate the online retailer will also look to build self-driving delivery vehicles. Amazon has specified the current CEO, Aicha Evans, and CTO, Jesse Levinson, of Zoox will continue their positions in running the company. “This acquisition solidifies Zoox’s impact on the autonomous driving industry,” said Aicha Evans, CEO of Zoox, “We now have an even greater opportunity to realize a fully autonomous future.”

Founded in 2014, Zoox has taken a ground-up approach to autonomous mobility and has already raised over $1 billion in funding, with a focus on creating vehicles design for ride-hailing. They are currently developing a bi-directional vehicle with no steering wheel or distinguishable front or back end, to allow for travel in either direction, with testing that was expected to begin in 2020. Previously, they have been testing their self-driving technology using Toyota SUVs in Las Vegas and San Francisco, which has been halted due to COVID-19 related shutdowns.

Lyft has announced it will restart a portion of its AV trials on public roads in California and its closed test track.

Lyft Resumes AV Testing in California
Nearly three months after COVID-19 paused its self-driving tests, Lyft has announced it will restart a portion of its AV trials on public roads in California and its closed test track. Their employee-only autonomous ride-hailing pilot program, however, is still suspended until further notice. Lyft’s Level 5 Director of Product, Sameer Qureshi, and Director of Engineering, Robert Morgan, said in a recent blog post that road testing was a “critical” part of their autonomous vehicle technology development.

Lyft’s Level 5 Program debuted in July 2017 and began testing on California’s public roads in November 2018. The California Department of Motor Vehicles recorded Lyft having 19 self-driving cars on public roads in California in 2019. Lyft confirmed those 19 cars drove nearly 43,000 miles autonomously throughout the year. Since March, Lyft has replaced its physical testing with simulations. In the same blog post, Qureshi and Morgan described simulations as an inexpensive method to further safety, reproducibility, and mastery. While many companies use simulation as a tool to build-out autonomous vehicle technology, Lyft is able to utilize data archived from drivers on its ride-hailing app to advance its simulation tests and generate 3D maps while learning more about human driving patterns.

New Analysis Shows Electric Batteries are Largely Unaffected by AV Needs
A new report in Nature Energy shows that the impact of automation on electric battery longevity is negligible—with the potential to reduce the effects even further. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University compiled data using a vehicle dynamics model they developed to assess the trade-off between automation and electric vehicle range and battery longevity. Their findings determined that the automation of electric vehicles will decrease its range by 5-10 percent for rural driving and 10-15 percent for urban driving. This loss of range comes as a result of added weight and sensor drag in rural driving and computing loads for urban driving.

“You don’t have to choose between the benefits of automation and the benefits of electrification.”

The analysis concludes electric cars don’t sustain a big loss in driving range when they become autonomous. The results showcase that hybrid powertrains for AVs are unnecessary, so long as automakers can execute energy-efficient computing and aerodynamic sensors tracks. Co-author of the paper, Parth Vaishnav, concluded, “You don’t have to choose between the benefits of automation and the benefits of electrification.”

 

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